When the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was still a toddler, he was touring Europe as a musician prodigy. This, annoyingly, makes late bloomers of us all - but it does reveal something very interesting about music and our youth: they don't have to be mutually exclusive.
It doesn't take a genius like Mozart to figure out that music education can help your child develop skills that can last a lifetime. Music is like the mathematics of art - complicated, often predictable, and definitely character-building. But if you're already sold on the idea of "music as education," then maybe you simply need less convincing and more information.
As a parent, you're probably constantly wondering about appropriateness: at what age is it appropriate to X, at what age is it appropriate to Y? As Mozart shows, you're never really too young to start learning music, even if that just means banging away at the piano.
For the Beginning Parent: What Not To Do
Mozart's father, Leopold, was a strict musical instructor, which means that he hit a musical lottery - he got in his lumps while struggling at the piano in his pre-teen years. You don't want to be Leopold, because chances are that your son is not Mozart.
But there's a line to straddle. If your child is interested in music education and displays a clear inclination for understanding music, you'll want to do them a favor and really get your hands dirty, helping them to develop the talent at an early age. This means not allowing your child to quit a commitment once it's been made unless some special circumstances have taken place - and, in many cases, they don't.
It's one thing to avoid being a pushy father or mother, forcing your child to play piano when he or she clearly hates it worse than broccoli. It's another thing entirely to become a pushover, not pushing your child to fully explore their talents and put in the pain and discipline required to achieve success.
Remember this rule of thumb: if you teach your child that they always have to practice, you may be sending a message that they're not good enough. But if you allow your child to squander their inclinations and talents, you may also be sending a message that they're not good enough. Tough love is sometimes necessary.
The Instruments: Which Really Work Best?
Okay, okay, enough prattling on. Let's get to the nitty gritty: what are the best musical instruments to focus on for children?
- The piano. The piano is like the computer keyboard of instruments because it's precisely that - a keyboard. Nothing quite teaches ambidexterity and musical skill like the piano, an instrument that can require ten fingers at once. A child that knows how to read music and play it on the piano will have a basic musical competence for life. The extremely young can have trouble with it, of course, so work to be reasonable.
- The guitar. Okay, so maybe it's a bit of a stretch to imagine a toddler holding a guitar, but young people in general can pick up guitars and learn to play them well - and the cool factor of knowing how to play the guitar can help spur on the desire to improve through those teen years. Just make sure they enjoy the music more than the attention.
- Toys. For the very young, you might just want to focus on musical toys like the ones available here in order to gauge your child's interest in music. See what kinds of toys they gravitate to and you might just be receiving a hint as to their potential. Oftentimes, it's best to observe what the children have to say and take their guidance.